By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — The Liberty Christian boys basketball team spent part of Saturday afternoon shooting around in the gym at Monroe Central. Then the Lions went for a bite to eat as a team.
If the stress of defending back-to-back Class 1A sectional championships is wearing on coach Jason Chappell, he's hiding it well.
"There's pressure every year," Chappell said. "I don't know if it's external or self-imposed, but there's always pressure. This is good pressure. We'd rather have it than not."
From the moment Liberty Christian walked off the court after a loss against Lafayette Central Catholic in the regional final at Frankfort last March, the team has been pointing to this postseason.
The players have worn plastic wristbands with the 77-68 final score imprinted on them throughout the season. And the Lions (15-6) enter the sectional on a four-game winning streak.
But it's two late losses — at New Castle and at Frankton — that might have prepared Liberty Christian best for what lies ahead.
"They were in some situations at the end of the season that I think are going to be fruitful for them," Chappell said. "They had a chance to play Anderson (in the Madison County tournament), they played Frankton twice and they had the opportunity to play at New Castle. There were big crowds for all of those games, and that's pressure. They've seen that, they've been through it, and I think it will be good for them."
Liberty Christian was the underdog in each of those contests, however. That will not be the case in the sectional.
Host Monroe Central (13-8) is the only other team in the field with a winning record. And the Lions open play Tuesday night against a 4-16 Daleville team they beat 72-31 on Feb. 22.
Cowan (1-19), Southern Wells (4-15) and Wes-Del (7-13) fill out the remainder of the bracket. But don't look for Liberty Christian to be overconfident.
"The cool thing about the state tournament is by the time Monday comes around, everybody is undefeated," Chappell said. "You can throw all the records out. I've seen teams rise up and surprise people, and I've seen teams that were supposed to go a long way struggle. It happens every year."
The only team Chappell is concerned with now is Daleville.
"It's hard to beat a team twice in one season," he said.
Monroe Central and Cowan will open sectional play Tuesday at 6 p.m., with the Lions and Broncos to follow. The winner of the opening game faces Wes-Del in Friday's first semifinal, and the Liberty Christian-Daleville winner will meet Southern Wells.
The championship game is set for Saturday night. In the past two seasons, Chappell and the Lions have cut down the nets at the conclusion of that evening.
They intend to do everything in their power to extend that string to three.
"There's no group of kids I'd rather take into battle with me than who we've got," Chappell said.